query: Where are you going?

David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Fri Jun 3 11:01:16 UTC 2011

Dear all,

Thanks to all of you who responded to the "Where are you going?" query 
directly to me; I received several dozen responses, and some interesting 
geographical patterns are emerging -- once the dust settles I'll be 
posting a summary.  Of course, I'd still greatly appreciate additional 
data points on additional languages ...

Wolfgang, many thanks for your comments (below).  However, my feelings 
are that the Indonesian "Mau ke mana" ("Where are you going") is 
performing roughly the same speech act as English "hello", Arabic "Salam 
'Alaikum", etc., and I find the term "greeting" to be a useful name for 
this particular speech act.  (My comments echo those of Claire Bowern on 
this matter earlier.)

With regard to "whether mau ke mana etc. are accompanied by an 
additional/preceding deictic or 'addressing' gesture or phrase/lexeme", 
the answer is: not necessarily -- it depends on the language/dialect.  
In much of Mainland and Insular Southeast Asia, all conversation is 
peppered by repeated usages of kinship terms and/or titles, so their 
usage in conjunction with the "Where are you going?" greeting is just a 
corollary of their general usage in conversation.  But as you move 
further east, towards New Guinea, such usage of kinship terms and/or 
titles peters out, and so, consequently, does their usage with the 
"Where are you going?" greeting.  For example, within Malay/Indonesian 
dialects, while in Jakarta Indonesian you tend to find "Mau ke mana" 
occurring with an additional address term, in Papuan Malay "Mau ke mana" 
occurs more often on its own.  Thus, the "Where are you going?" greeting 
is independent of the presence or absence of such address terms.

Finally, a word on "How's it going?", "ça va", and other such examples, 
brought up by Paolo Ramat and others, and discussed further in this 
thread: while interesting in their own right, M.M. Jocelyne-Vest is 
correct in pointing out that these are quite distinct from the 
construction that I am after, which involves a specific 
spatially-oriented interrogative, ie. a "where" word.

Thanks, again, and all the best,


> Dear all,
> just to add one comment: David has labeled the "mau [pergi] ke 
> mana"-type a "greeting". If we assume that a 'greeting' entails a an 
> appellative, addressing function ['wish' etc.] such as Bavarian [gryes 
> eana go:t], Engl. 'hallo', Lat. 'salve(te)', Russ. zdravstvujte, 
> Classical Arabic a-s-sal:amu \alaykum/-ka/-ki etc. it would be 
> difficult to subsume the mau ke mana-formula under this type. 
> Actually, I do not know whether mau ke mana etc. are accompanied by an 
> additional/preceding deictic or 'addressing' gesture or phrase/lexeme, 
> but I guess that it would be odd to use the phrase without indicating 
> some kind of attentional attitude towards the addressee. I'm left with 
> the impression that the function of the mau ke mana-type rather is 
> that of 'handing over the power of speaking' to the addressee. The 
> question mode adds the notion of  curiosity and interest of the 
> speaker also symbolizing the speaker's 'ignorance'. The addressee is 
> thus put into a position that allows them to construe themselves as 
> being temporarily superior to the speaker (by 'answering' the question).
> The event image used in the corresponding formula may dwell upon 
> various source domains most of them ending up in target domains that 
> share the feature [state/condition] etc. In fact, the metaphorization 
> of motion verbs seems to be a very common paradigm, as illustrated by 
> both David's and Paolo's examples. It's a fascinating stuff when 
> looking for the origin of such expressions. For instance, in French 
> the expression "comment vas-tu" has (to my knowledge!) originally been 
> used in reference towards 'bathroom' (and its precursors), meaning: 
> "What does your 'going to the toilet' tell [us] about your health'? 
> Such allusions to the state of health are very common, compare Syrian 
> Arabic shlo:nak 'how is your color?', meaning 'how is the color of 
> your face?'. I wonder which is the type of motion event the mau ke 
> mana-type has developed from.
> Best wishes,
> Wolfgang             
> Am 02.06.2011 15:45, schrieb Paolo Ramat:
>> French "comment vas-tu ?" and "comment ça va?" , Germ.  "wie geht's 
>> dir ?" are the most familiar cases of movement verbs used in 
>> greetings (vs. Span. "còmo estàs?" [accents are not correct in e-mail 
>> characters and the inverted interrogative sign is also missing] It.  
>> "come stai?" , lit. 'how do you stay?')
>> Prof.Paolo Ramat
>> Istituto Universitario di Studi Superiori (IUSS )
>> Direttore del Centro "Lingue d'Europa: tipologia, storia e 
>> sociolinguistica" (LETiSS)
>> Viale Lungo Ticino Sforza 56
>> 27100 Pavia
>> tel. ++390382375811
>> fax ++390382375899
>> -----Messaggio originale----- From: David Gil
>> Sent: Thursday, June 02, 2011 1:24 PM
>> Subject: query: Where are you going?
>> Dear all,
>> One of the most common greetings in many languages of mainland and
>> insular Southeast Asia is a phrase whose literal meaning is "Where are
>> you going?", eg. Thai /pai nai?/, Indonesian /mau ke mana?/  Crucially,
>> it is not necessarily meant to be taken literally, any more than the
>> English "How do you do?", and the most appropriate response will
>> typically be something vague and non-committal, such as "just walking"
>> I am interested in mapping the geographical distribution of the "Where
>> are you going?" greeting.  I would thus be grateful for information from
>> as many languages as possible, answering the simple question:
>> In language(s) that you are familiar with, is "Where are you going?" (or
>> an alternative "Where are you coming from?") used as a common greeting,
>> without necessarily being meant to be taken literally as an expression
>> of interest in the direction of the addressee's movements?
>> I am equally interested in negative data, asserting that your language
>> does not have such a usage, as I am in data of a positive nature.
>> In addition to confirming the presence of this greeting thoughout
>> mainland and insular Southeast Asia, I am particularly interested in
>> ascertaining the geographical boundaries of the greeting, to the west in
>> the Indian subcontinent, to the north in China and Northeast Asia, and
>> to the east and south, in New Guinea and Australia.  I am also
>> interested to find out whether it occurs in other parts of the world, or
>> whether it unique to Southeast Asia.  (A recent trip to Ethiopia
>> suggests that it might also be found there.)
>> Looking forward to your responses,
>> Thanks,
>> David
> -- 
> ----------------------------------------------------------
> *Prof. Dr. Wolfgang 
> Schulze                                *                                   
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David Gil

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

Telephone: 49-341-3550321 Fax: 49-341-3550119
Email: gil at eva.mpg.de
Webpage:  http://www.eva.mpg.de/~gil/

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